Right now I’m listening to Why Civilizations Can’t Climb Hills by James Scott, author of Seeing Like a State (which I haven’t gotten around to reading). His thesis is that the characteristics we find among primitive peoples (often low-scale agriculturalists) are not a holdover from pre-history, but rather a reaction to civilization, or more specifically the state. This would seem to have implications for evolutionary psychologists on the nature of the evolutionary adaptive period. Scott focuses on the difference between the state-building valley civilizations and the hill-dwelling barbarian tribes, but he also discusses other groups such as the Cossacks (who he says are now well defined as an ethnic group, though they started out as runaway serfs). He also quotes Owen Lattimore, who I didn’t expect to hear about outside discussions of Freda Utley and her China Story. It seems to contrast with Oppenheimer’s theory of nomadic barbarian pastoralists conquering sedentary agriculturalists (and sometimes hunter-gatherers). Scott mentions the Arabs (as opposed to Berbers) as a force of civilization, but they’re better characterized as nomadic than sedentary crop-growers. He also states that in the New World Europeans killed/kicked out the natives when they hadn’t developed sedentary agriculture or replaced the elites and instituted more efficient taxation otherwise, but that did not happen in the southeastern United States. The part about agricultural strategies to avoid expropriation reminded me of the anecdote Daniel Dennet mentioned about cicadas having reproductive life-cycles prime-numbered years long to avoid synchronization with predators. I got a laugh at the end when someone in the audience accused him of excusing hill peoples for their right-wing political histories. Another interesting part stemming from the same questioner is about the conversion of these peoples to religions that are globally powerful but distinct from the locally dominant faiths, which reminded me of what Razib of Gene Expression has wrote on the topic. Hat tip to Reason Hit & Run.

Via the ATS mailing-list I came across this article about Semco in Brazil, which unintentionally adopted a rather anarcho-syndicalist style of management. The question though that I’ve always had for folks like Kevin Carson is why we don’t see profit-maximizing corporations imitating this if it works so well?